Can condiments have causes?

9.24.09:: I am all for brand banner statements. I find these professions of faith empowering. However, I get a little uneasy when it has to deal with a condiment. Take in exhibit A:


This proclamation speaks to the product feature and ties in the audience. Day 1 stuff of any creative assignment, really. Now, may I present Exhibit B:


Same thing, right? Nope. Ask yourself what is more believable– the condiment with attitude or a movement of Americans who wear the standard in rebel fashion? Obviously, the latter. And this is just for one reason: Levi’s has a brand that can do this. They can actually have people take up their banner. Take a visit to both their campaign websites (Go Forth and Zinger) and this messaging becomes more apparent. Levi’s communication is something that people can join. They not only ask for photo submissions, but actually have visitors engage in ‘expeditions’ and writing assignments about the brand and its’ mantra. Miracle Whip’s messaging is merely entertainment, as they just ask you to ‘zing’ the web.

Please don’t think I am claiming that Miracle Whip and Kraft have no idea what they are doing. They are simply living the limitation of their product, and doing the best job they can at it. However, when you create a piece of communication that proclaims the beliefs of your brand and its’ fans, remember an authentic message people can join in on will always be more successful. If you don’t believe me, here’s the number of Facebook friends each effort has:

Levi’s: 146,000
Miracle Whip: 18,607

And that’s the skinny.

Sticky Social Media, Literally

8.05.09 :: These days social media is bigger than MJ’s funeral coverage, and rightly so. A brand can actually participate in a two way conversation with it’s fans easily. All it has to do is find people that have a reason to talk and nurture that relationship. This is usually done by soliciting feedback, providing a forum or topic to discuss. But what do you do when your audience was born way before the age of the status update? The same thing. Take a look at one of our current direct mail pieces for Walker Place, a 55+ community in Minneapolis.

Working along with the team at Walker Place, we established the idea that their residents were active and their ‘retirement was not tired’. We knew we had to create a piece that would allow resident prospects to embrace retirement and share this thought with others. So, we created a simple 6×9″ sheet of stickers with quippy sayings seniors could use to show their and Walker Place’s vibrancy. (My personal favorite is “I don’t feed pigeons.”) What resulted was a piece that allowed a community to rally around a cause (active retirement) and share this thought with others (with stickers). This mailer outperformed all our expectations drastically (some people even showed up to their tours wearing stickers), so needless to say the team at Walker Place was pleased.

But, what does this mean? Well, it still means an original idea, with the right medium and a great client can make an impact. It also means you don’t have to be online to be a brand people talk about (though it does help). You simply have to have the right message executed well.  Too often this simple truth is neglected when we are constantly bombarded with million dollar marketing buzz words, bloated creative and, dare we say it….sameness. So, before all else, embrace simplicity.

Possibility before reality

6.24.09- If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noted my fascination with e-paper. Well, a group of students at Art Center shared my interest and created a site and a series of videos that demonstrate how a new newspaper might work at Beyond the Fold.

As you might guess, the first question people might ask is: Why waste your time thinking about this before we can do this? Well, aside from the aesthetic halo this brings, I think the it offers us some practical advice. Since the days of DaVinci and the helicopter, we have always come up with more human and organic solutions when there are no technological restrictions. Why? Because it is our daily experiences that we try to improve. We are not slaves to machines or guidelines.

The same goes for solving any brand problem. We must think what is ideal before we think what is real.  Start with: “In world filled with only possibilities, what and how do I want people to interact with my company?” After you have this, bring in the code, the legal copy and the sizes, but never forget your ideal solution (or least how it feels). After all, any reality can be beaten with enough imagination. 

Post Palm Pre Hype

6.8.09 :: I know what you’re thinking– we so very desperately needed another smartphone. The iPhone has the market cornered with excellent usability and the most 3G users, Google’s G1 is popular among the open source community and Blackberry’s got a handle on enterprise level solutions. So, if you’re the late entry, the only thing you can do is to claim you can do it all, better.

Not surprisingly, this is what is implied in Palm Pre’s new spot , “Flow” from agency Modernista!

Rarely, can a product or brand survive on this ‘we are everything to everyone’ strategy. In fact, Bob Garfield, an ad critic from Ad Age, agreed and called the Pre’s launch spot non- revolutionary and an iPhone “copycat”.

As for me, I remain positive. I had a small chance to play with the new phone this weekend, and while it’s by no means revolutionary, it has some features that are forward thinking and might catch on  (i.e. Visual application dashboard, compact design, a nice user experience and great software [gmail and pandora]).  My prediction is that the best practices of this phone will end up in the next generations of the G1 and iPhone, but as with the survival of all technology, it will be left in the people’s hands.

Friend or friend icon?

We have recently seen a dramatic shift in the definition and responsibilities of friendship. According to Time Out Chicago, we are more likely to call people our friends without really defining them as real friends. Some sites like Facebook and Twitter have made friendship equivalent to replying to a status update.  And even Dentyne is telling us to how to treat our friends:

But, in an era where online social networking is the norm, how do we find the set of people who’s opinions we trust the most? And how does this effect what we buy?

Well, there is a fair amount of research on the subject of online word of mouth referrals amongst friends and it all centers around two things: 1.) A referral by a past customer is one of the most trusted pieces of online communication and 2.) The Dunbar Number. According to this concept, a human being can sustain relationships and communicate with about 150 people. Ironically, this is the average number of friends users have on Facebook. These 150 people make up a person’s referral circle, the people we receive information from (commercial or otherwise). Yet only 26% of these 150 will actually be called ‘real friends’ according to the aforementioned article in Time Out.

So, do we only trust these 39 people who we call our ‘real friends’? Well, a local artist/teacher, Maria Scapelli, might be able to shed some light on that with a project  called Peoplescape 365. Essentially, Scapelli set out on a mission to make one new friend a day for a year either online or offline. Her topline conclusions: 1.) she only kept about 10% as ‘real friends’ 2.) almost all of these people she met in person. So, based on these loose numbers, we might be able to say a person is only able to maintain about 30-40 real friendships and that these relationships are mainly forged by face-to-face contact.

Does that mean we don’t trust the remaining 110 people in our social circle when they say a Samsung TV is a great purchase or buy a book recommend by Legend457 online? No, of course not. But when it comes to making a brand something we love to a point of passionate irrationality (see Lovemarks), one might assume we have to talk to these 30-40 people (among other things). If we don’t, we are simply just providing purchasing descisions not life long loves.